Who Are the Contemporary Faux Naif Artists?
Have you ever looked at a painting and said: “this looks like a child painted it”? Would you be even more confused to see Paul Klee or Henri Rousseau sign that kind of artwork? The truth is that these artists belong to two actual artistic ideologies, called faux naïf and naïve art respectively, both of which had a sole purpose of depicting childlike simplicity and frankness. The difference, however, between these entities is that, while naïve art usually refers to works made by individuals with no formal training in an art school or academy, faux naif, as you might guess from the French term, was created by trained creatives, who nevertheless wanted to escape the insincere sophistication created within the traditional system of the arts and imitate the unaffected, authentic experience of our world – very much like the one seen in artworks by children or people with mental disorders. As a result, their paintings and drawings are “falsely naïve” and as such are often put in the same category as Primitive and Art brut, while they could all be categorized under the realm of Outsider art.
Throughout the 20th century and so far in the 21st, contemporary artists set out to master this kind of aesthetics, avoiding the rules of color and perspective while instead making geometrically erroneous works by using patterns and unrefined hues. Their pieces are quite flat and showing no sign of depth of field, for instance, as all elements belong to a single plan of the composition. Such practice nevertheless got recognized by the mainstream art world and faux naif is now represented in museum and galleries worldwide.
Until the end of the 19th century Naïve Art, created by untrained artists and characterised by spontaneity and simplicity, enjoyed little recognition from professional artists and art critics. Naïve painting is often distinguished by its clarity of line, vivacity and joyful colours, as well as by its rather clean-cut, simple shapes, as represented by French artists such as Henri Rousseau, Séraphine de Senlis, André Bauchant and Camille Bombois. However, this movement has also found adherents elsewhere, including Joan Miró (who was influenced by some of its qualities), Guido Vedovato, Niko Pirosmani, and Ivan Generalic.
Here are the contemporary practitioners of faux naïf art.
Yoshitomo Nara - Exploring the Innocence
Over the course of a prolific, 30-year-long career, Yoshitomo Nara has created over 5,000 paintings, drawings and installations. Among those, many belong to the recognizable faux naif style of the Japanese artist, reflected in numerous child-like, seemingly innocuous characters. These are usually children or animals who come to surprise us by carrying weapons like knives and saws, giving us an irritated, disapproving look. For Yoshitomo Nara, however, these are not weapons but toys, as they are so small they couldn’t hurt anyone. With an army of characters, he also created an army of followers around the world that continues to appreciate his work.
Featured image: Yoshitomo Nara. Image by Satoko Kawasaki via japantimes.co.jp
Liao Guohe - The Provocative
If I tell you that some of the titles of the paintings by Liao Guohe are The Truth of a Painting is an Asshole and Begging the Ass, perhaps you can get the picture about the vulgar satire the artist employs in his practice. To say that his work is “poor taste”, “crude” or simply “bad” could be a personal opinion, but his art surely falls under the faux naif for these precise reasons. They couldn’t be more simple, as they look like scribbles and doodles you actually see at your local kindergarten show, except Liao Guohe’s is full of irony, coarse body hair, sexual innuendo and overall awkward characters and scenery.
Feautured image: Liao Guohe – The Truth of Painting is an Asshole, 2013. Image via leapleapleap.com
Tal R - The Kolbojnik Artist
Bold brushstrokes, vibrant patterns and exuberant colors are what characterizes the work of Tal R, an artist of a rich heritage whose favorite topic is the mid-world reality and dream, the celebratory and the sinister. His collages, sculptures, installations and paintings gather imagery from different sources, and these Tal R calls “kolbojnik”, meaning “leftovers” in Yiddish. His is a faux naïf art with a pinch of Expressionism, Fauvism and Symbolism, a false child-like atmosphere in which there is heaps of playfulness which somehow can’t help but haunt us with a strange feeling behind it.
Featured image: Tal R. Image by Agnes Fischer via pasuneautre.com
Genieve Figgis - The Irish Humorist
Irish artist Genieve Figgis ooze with soothing colors that depict Irish-English subjects like Georgian country houses and those living in them. Somewhere between the bad painting and kitsch, she endorses the famous national humor through her work, as well as attitudes towards wealth, land ownership and social hierarchies. Her colors might be light, but Genieve Figgis’s characters are eerie, often unrecognizable under a fat smear of paint, paint which absorbs her entire narratives into highly expressive structures of bold lines and blocks of color. At times provocative, these works often pay a “brut” homage to many famous paintings in the history of art.
Genieve Figgis. Image by Doreen Kilfeather via Artsy
John Randall Nelson - A Story Teller
A painter and sculptor, John Randall Nelson works with the media of painting and sculpture, which derive from a personal language of archetypes and symbols. Proclaimed “a chronicler of contemporary culture”, he often uses a central image juxtaposed with a collage of iconography and text. His surfaces are constantly being re-worked in the process of creation and discovery, mixing a distinct faux naïf style with a complex kind of formalism, in order to present metaphor and ambiguity – two of the most important elements in the art of John Randall Nelson which, according to the artist, make the viewer re-interpret his artworks constantly.
Featured image: John Randall Nelson. Image via exploreartphoenix.wordpress
Craigie Aitchison - Master of Crucifixion
He refused to be part of any school or genre, but Craigie Aitchison’s crucifixions, Italian landscapes, portraits of black men and pictures of dogs (usually Bedlington Terriers) do carry the aforementioned child-like quality. His color-saturated infantile suffering appears to be directly linked to his own, and the celebrated Scottish artist surely seems like he went to a great deal of determined concentration to make his artworks look like they came out of no effort whatsoever. It is fair to say that the art of Craigie Aitchison, perhaps, evokes much more vibrancy and darkness through color than through subject matter.
Featured image: Craigie Aitchison. Image by John Ronald
Stephen Felton - The Minimalist
Perhaps the best way to analyze the paintings of Stephen Felton is to survey his 2014 exhibition entitled It’s a Whale, in which he took upon himself to re-interpret Moby Dick, the monumental literary work. These canvases depict whales, waves, currents, harpoons, seagulls, blades, sails and much more, but with such Minimalistic approach that it is sometimes hard to conclude if it really is what we think it is. The whiteness of his support becomes his primary color, disrupted only by the bold outline of his objects, which differs from painting to painting. Stephen Felton’s imagination is one where less is definitely more.
Featured image: Stephen Felton, Exhibition view “It’s a whale”, 2014, Galerie Chez Valentin
Tad Lauritzen Wright - The Experimenter
The topics, just like the media that Tad Lauritzen Wright uses, are many. From collage paintings, single line drawings and word puzzle paintings, spray painting and experimental applications of paint, he portrays everything from skulls and tops of the buildings to face-deprived Mona Lisa, a beer pong table, a magic 8 ball disco ball and pots filled with plants and flowers. The faux naif style couldn’t be more obvious, because for Tad Lauritzen Wright it’s about using paint for fun, in any form and texture, as it reveals his first thoughts and moves. One thing is for sure – his art is definitely interesting to look at.
Featured image: Tad Lauritzen Wright. Image by Axis Memphis via flickr
Jules de Balincourt - The Escapist
Speaking of an unusual topic in painting, we have Jules de Balincourt, who appears to have chosen faux naïf aesthetics for its ability to convey both utopia and dystopia. His pieces seem to be childlike, yet his sceneries are often disturbing, like two countries in the middle of a war or disappearing characters in the middle of a jungle. Jules de Balincourt constantly balances between Folk and Pop art, using “low” materials such as tape, spray paint and stencils mixed with traditional oil paint to create his own sort of escapism through landscapes, portraits and political art. His social commentary, on the other hand, is highly sophisticated.
Featured image: Jules de Balincourt. Image via YouTube
The Royal Art Lodge - An Artist Group
They started off as a collaborative group of artists based in Winnipeg, Canada, consisting of Michael Dumontier, Marcel Dzama, Neil Farber, Drue Langlois, Jon Pylypchuk, and Adrian Williams. Between 1996 and 2008, The Royal Art Lodge created small-scale drawings and paintings which often incorporated text, and since 2008, it came down to Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, who continued to work together. Working as a concept of a spontaneous chain reaction, the group produced sequences of simple pieces, in a style that can still be seen in the works of the remaining two artists as well.
Featured image: The Royal Art Lodge – Unidenticals, 2010. Image via slash.fr. All images used for illustrative purposes only.